Petrol cars banned, no gas and meat-free Mondays – life in carbon neutral UK

Imagine a world where petrol cars are banned, there is no gas central heating, and meat-free Monday is no longer a choice.

That is the future that awaits us if the Government’s pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050 is to be met.

Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the UK and almost 200 other countries vowed to work together to keep global warming in check.

The agreement seeks to keep temperatures to 1.5 degree or at the very least to "well below 2 degrees" above pre-industrial levels so it is vital that we cut emissions.

If Britain is to get greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” it means the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out.

If we can do it by the deadline of 2050, Britain will become the world’s first major economy to stop contributing to climate change.

But to achieve that goal means drastic and life-changing action has to be taken – and fast.

A report by the Committee on Climate Change makes it clear that things we take for granted now would have to be seriously restricted.

Petrol and diesel vehicles will need to be phased out and replaced by electric or hydrogen powered ones by 2035.

Consumption of beef, lamb and dairy must be cut by 20% by 2050 to reduce the methane emitted into the atmosphere by livestock.

And no houses built after 2025 would be connected to the gas grid, whilst the owners of older buildings will need to switch their heating system to a low carbon one by around 2035.

So is going carbon-neutral by 2050 a realistic goal – and how can we achieve it? Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director of the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, explains

In your home

Every house would have to be better insulated to reduce energy wastage.

And every home would also be connected to smart devices to make sure things like lights, computers and TVs weren’t using power when they weren’t needed.

But perhaps the biggest change would be in how we heat our homes – with gas central heating becoming a thing of the past.

New homes would be designed in a way where they required minimal energy to maintain their temperature

Bob says: “Gas central heating will have to end.

"Initially there will be a generation of boilers that are a combination of gas and also heat-pumps which use refrigerants, which create a heat exchange with the natural heat from the air or from below ground.

"But they need to increase in their efficiency and initially you would have them backed up with gas central heating that would turn on when the pump wasn’t doing quite enough, in the same way that you have hybrid cars that run on electricity but occasionally need to use petrol.

“Eventually we just won’t be burning gas – you won’t have any gas cookers any more, everything will be electric.

“It certainly requires an investment upfront but the idea is that all of these appliances are going to be much more efficient so in fact the running costs will be much lower than people have at the moment.

"Yes there will be an investment in a new cooker, but it will cook things more quickly and in a more energy efficient way.

“The same things for you heating – by not using gas your energy bills will be much lower.”

On the road

In order to achieve net zero carbon emissions, petrol and diesel cars will become a thing of the past.

Not only will we all be driving electric cars but driverless cars – which are computer operated to find the most dynamic routes around our cities – could replace traditional cabs.

And public transport systems would have to improve to reduce congestion.

Bob explains: “The prices of electric cars are coming right down, and the running costs of an electric car are a lot less than those of a petrol or diesel car.

“A lot of people when they come to the end of life of their current car, electric cars will be the only thing available.

"For people who have to buy one earlier there may be incentive schemes.

“One of the more interesting developments is that at night when you plug your car in, if you have any charge left then the grid might take that out of your car to use at peak times, and then charge the car during the night, which will help with the supply and demand of electricity.

“Some electric car companies are looking at autonomous vehicles which are almost like cabs are now – so when you need to make a journey, you hire a car, it turns up, it doesn’t have a driver but takes you to your destination.

"Because it is controlled by computers it gets around the city much more efficiently than if it was driven by a person.

"So people will spend less time actually commuting and then don’t have to worry about parking.

“If we invest more money in public transport, everyone may knock 10 minutes off their daily commute which is ten minutes more that everybody spends being more productive.

"So when you work these sums out it is far more economical than people sitting in traffic jams. Many of the changes we make for climate reasons will also generally improve life.”

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